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Last train scheduled on local rail empire

Bob Dabruzzi stands by a portion of his 800-square-foot model railroad layout. Unfortunately, the display is being dismantled. Dabruzzi's home at 414 First St. was recently sold to Gagnon Construction. Photo by Margaret Ontl

A local railroad empire is coming to a close!

We're not talking about the multi-ton locomotives that rumble through the countryside -- we're talking about one of the most extensive model railroad layouts in the area -- maybe the country!

Bob Dabruzzi started a very interesting model railroad project in 1991. He was determined to build in his home a replica of Hudson in the 1950s and early 1960s. The result is a massive 800-square-foot layout, displaying exceptional detail of not just railroading, but downtown Hudson, buildings in the area, depots, bridges, rivers, trees, people, cars, lights -- the list goes on and on. All the railroad stock is modeled after the Chicago Northwestern Line which served the area before it was sold to Union Pacific.

The decision to dismantle the layout was prompted by the sale of Dabruzzi's home at 414 First St. to Gagnon Construction. The home, from outward appearances, resembles a warehouse in the alley behind Barker's. On the inside it's a large, beautiful home with a gigantic 15-by-54-foot HO-scale train layout.

"We recently purchased a home on Laurel Avenue and, of course, the layout wouldn't begin to fit there," Dabruzzi said. "I had hopes that it could be displayed somewhere, but it's just too big. I'm going to dismantle it and store it."

Dabruzzi, who will be 73 in July and is still active in the concrete business, claims he will "slow down some" after he gets resettled in his new home. The "old" home, with a lovely view of Lakefront Park and the St. Croix River, sold for $750,000.

The Dabruzzi layout has been featured in many national model railroading magazines over the years and has been featured on many regional television shows and in newspaper articles, including several in the Star-Observer.

One model railroad magazine editor called Dabruzzi's layout "one of the 10 best in the country."

Dabruzzi grew up in North Hudson and he and his family spent a lot of time around trains. A large portion of his layout is devoted to the old North Hudson car shops - designed from the original blueprints of the facility.

He's especially proud of the model of the St. Croix River swing bridge, built from scratch and an exact replica of the real thing.

"I took hundreds of photos of the structure and drew plans in HO scale," Dabruzzi said. "It was probably the biggest single project on the layout - it took hundreds of hours to build. It was featured on the cover of Railmodel Journal."

Everything on the layout, of course, looks familiar. That's especially true of a view lived in Hudson in the 1950s and 1960s. There's the car shops, the St. Croix River dam, downtown Hudson, the old Seventh Street bridge leading to Proehl's Point, Andersen Windows on the Minnesota side of the layout - the list goes on and on.

Dabruzzi has about 150 engines, most all Chicago Northwestern.

An old Hudson resident can look at Dabruzzi's layout and see the CNW 400 whiz past the depot at the end of St. Croix Street on its way from Minneapolis to Chicago - a trip that was advertised to passengers as taking 400 minutes. Like the memories of the real train, in a few weeks, Dabruzzi's scale model 400 will also become nothing more than a distant memory.